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CULTURE | Vol. 7, No. 12, March 22, 2007
(Florida's Forgotten Rebels)

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Phat 'Jungle Fantasy'

by Beege Welborn


Marco Balestracci avidly describes the exuberance and technical sophistication of “Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy” as “phat crazy!”

The 22-year-old captain of the production’s jump rope team says a massive energy surge begins the second the curtain goes up and continues at breakneck pace through the entire show.

In the opening seven minutes of the show, Balestracci say, “We’ve put together this huge jump rope routine. It requires 11 of our acrobats. We spin, we do double tucks, we have all kinds of jump rope with acrobatical tricks in them…it’s the most energized act that I’ve ever been in!”

World-class acrobats, like Balestracci, plan to energize Pensacola’s Saenger Theater at 7 p.m. Sunday, March. This Cirque is a soaring fantasy adventure in two acts. Besides the acrobats, the performance includes sailing trapeze artists, spine bending contortionists, masterful jugglers and puppeteers—all the elements and death-defying prowess of a big top circus experience are on display.

Described by some as a “colorful dream in an enchanted forest,” what sets this production apart is it’s immersion in a lush, Broadway theater setting. It’s brought to life with exotic, imaginative costumes, unpredictable set designs, dazzling choreography and ethereal music provided by electric violinist Jared Burnett as the “Soul Tree” and vocalist Julia Langley.

The “Jungle Fantasy” becomes an exhilarating family experience in the chimerical or “phat.”

The company is chock-full of incredible athletes from all over the world, like the youthful Balestracci.

Having walked up the home staircase on his hands at the age of 7, Balestracci is an old gymnast hand at his deceptively young age, and his enthusiasm for the challenges of this production are indicative of the high level of experience, talent and dexterity it requires.

As a teenager, Balestracci was a dancer at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., when the previous “Cirque Dreams” production came for an engagement.

“I saw the guys spinning these huge boxes around, manipulating these three dimensional frameworks of a cube and thought, ‘That is SO cool!” he recalls. “I totally wanted to try that, so I walked up one day and said, ‘Can I?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So, I picked it up and started spinning it.”

That little performance led him to go to work early every day after that and “pick up a cube to practice for fun,” Balestracci says. “Next thing you know, Director Neil Goldberg comes down and says, ‘I want you to come work with me.’ And that was in 2002.” 

Although a veteran of the “Cirque Dreams” company, Balestracci revels in the challenges of playing myriad roles on and off stage, and is quick to point out the attributes that make “Jungle Fantasy” compelling.

“We have a balancing act that’s probably one of the best in the world today,” he says. “There’s so much eye-candy and so much color! Half our show is in ultra-violet light. From the props to the drops to the costumes to the scenery, everything glows in neon colors.”

In addition to the flamboyant theater spectacle, Balestracci points out other things he thinks make “Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy” a memorable evening.

“Sometimes it’s so death defying, you hear people gasping,” he says. “They’re literally afraid to look. Then everything works out great and people start cheering. It’s a really exciting show, so I’m really proud to run around in it.”

“Exciting” or “phat crazy” sound like they may be just understatements.

What: “Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy”
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 25
Where: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
Cost: $30-$50
Details: 434-7444